Campaigners welcome new right to leave the armed forces for under-18s


ForcesWatch press release

The government has today promised to give teenage soldiers the right to leave the armed forces up until age 18 if they are unhappy. ForcesWatch and other NGOs have been campaigning on this and other issues relating to under-18s in the armed forces as the Arned Forces Bill does through parliament.

 The government has today promised to give teenage soldiers the right to leave the armed forces up until age 18 if they are unhappy.

This announcement has been welcomed by ForcesWatch, a network concerned with ethical issues involving the armed forces, and other human rights groups. ForcesWatch said they would be watching closely as the details are published to ensure that the law is changed in both letter and spirit. 

Currently, people joining the forces at 16 or 17 have no right to discharge (after the first six months) until turning 22 but must rely on the discretion of commanding officers to get a discharge.

Today the Minister for Defence Personnel, Andrew Robothan MP wrote in a statement to the Armed Forces Bill Committee, “Following a review of discharge policy I am pleased to announce that, for those under the age of 18, the ability to be discharged will in future be a right up to the age of 18, subject to an appropriate period of consideration or cooling off.”

The UK is the only country in Europe to routinely recruit people aged under 18 into the armed forces.

Emma Sangster, Co-ordinator of ForcesWatch, said:

“We are delighted that the government has recognised the injustice of the six-year trap, which forces 16- and 17-year olds to remain in the military until turning 22. We will be watching closely to ensure that this change is brought in as quickly as possible when the details are published.

“We believe more needs to be done to address concerns about under 18s in the armed forces. Last week the Chair of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child called for reform of recruitment of under 18s into the armed forces during a presentation in the House of Lords. This was echoed by this week’s report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights.”



1. ForcesWatch is a network launched in 2010 concerned with ethical issues around armed forces recruitment and the rights of forces personnel.

2. Government response to the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill Special Report 19 May 2011

3. Joint Committee on Human Rights – Twelfth Report: Legislative Scrutiny: Armed Forces Bill, 17 May 2011

See more: legislation & policy, recruitment age, ForcesWatch